KIEV, Ukraine — Abandoned by his own guards and reviled across the Ukrainian capital but still determined to recover his shredded authority, President Viktor F. Yanukovych fled Kiev on Saturday to denounce what he called a violent coup, as his official residence, his vast, colonnaded office complex and other once impregnable centers of power fell without a fight to throngs of joyous citizens stunned by their triumph.
As President Yanukovych’s nemesis, former Prime Minister Yulia V. Tymoshenko, was released from a penitentiary hospital, Parliament found the president unable to fulfill his duties and exercised its constitutional powers to set an election for May 25 to select his replacement. But with both President Yanukovych and his Russian patrons speaking of a “coup” carried out by “bandits” and “hooligans,” it was far from clear that the day’s lightning-quick events were the last act in a struggle that has not just convulsed Ukraine but expanded into an East-West confrontation reminiscent of the Cold War.
In the capital, protesters carrying clubs and some wearing masks were in control of the entryways to the presidential palace Saturday morning, and watched as thousands of citizens strolled through the grounds, gazing in wonder at the mansions, zoo, golf course and enclosure for rare pheasants, set in a birch forest on a bluff soaring above the Dnieper River.
“This commences a new life for Ukraine,” said Roman Dakus, a protester-turned-guard, who was wearing a ski helmet and carrying a length of pipe as he blocked a doorway at the palace. “This is only a start,” he added. “We need now to make a new structure and a new system, a foundation for our future, with rights for everybody, and we need to investigate who ordered the violence.”
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